Coming soon: ‘The Return of Wolfie’
MICHIGAN CITY — If they ever made a movie about “Wolfie” – the once-proud mascot of Michigan City High School – it would have to be a series. And later this month, the latest chapter will debut in the Wolves Den.
After a long run that ended with the original Wolfie becoming just a little too mangy for prime time, a couple of follow-up mascot suits saw shorter runs, with limited success, leaving the school and its fans with no sideline escapades to inspire them.
That all changes Friday, when a sleek, modern new Wolfie will debut during the Wolves’ boys basketball game against Valparaiso, thanks to the Michigan City Athletic Boosters, Michigan City Rotary Club and Michigan City Area Chamber of Commerce president Katie Eaton.
But first a little history.
“The original Wolfie costume dated back to the mid-1990s, and the mascot suit has become dated and unwearable,” Michigan City Area Schools spokeswoman Betsy Kohn said.
“Back in the day, I hear that the wolf mascot was a big presence at games – performing routines with the cheerleaders and revving up the crowd. But it’s been a decade or more since that has happened,” Kohn said.
According to the Booster Club, the last mascot costume purchased by the school system dates back to the consolidation of Elston and Rogers in 1994-95.
Back then, according to some former students who wore the suit, Wolfie was known as Clyde, named for former MCAS superintendent (1984-89) and school board member Clyde Zeek.
When the name officially switched is not certain. But what is clear is the original suit, purchased for $3,000, didn’t survive the rigors of performing at football and basketball for long.
“It is now in disrepair and a health hazard – held together with binder clips, and the suit and carry bag are both growing what appears to be mold,” according to the Booster Club’s website.
Kohn said it was “a nice costume back in the day – you could see well out of the head and move/dance in the costume.”
The original Wolfie’s final appearance is believed to have been in 2017 at the ribbon-cutting for the MCHS cafeteria.
“It was one of the last appearances of the original, which by that time hadn’t been used at a game for many years,” Kohn said. “It was just too nasty to put it on anymore ... I worried about mold in the head! The tail was fat and heavy; it had been sewn on and fallen off countless times.”
The second mascot suit was actually donated to the school, but never appeared on the sidelines.
Sometime around 2007, “another wolf costume was purchased by the Lewis family for personal use, and it was later donated to MCHS,” according to the Booster Club. “This suit, still used for limited appearances, is too small for many wearers and its Styrofoam head is now disintegrating, greatly limiting the wearer’s visibility. The feet of this donated costume are torn and unusable, and the paws have disappeared.”
Kohn said Wolfie II, “was used on a regular basis in parades, at Boo at the Zoo, and other events, but its head is starting to disintegrate (Styrofoam inside) and it’s not conducive to moving around much.
“That suit was worn as recently as the last 4th of July Parade and even briefly this holiday season when Wolfie rang a bell for the Salvation Army. But it’s not a Wolfie that can really be worn for athletic events as a real mascot with the cheerleaders.”
She said some combinations of the original Wolfie head and the newer body were worn a few times, including the recent Howl O Ween at Ames Field, but it “made for an odd look.”
Wolfie III “was purchased – very cheap – and it turned out to be an absolute disaster,” Kohn said. “It looked strange, was a very small size, the head fell off, and it was basically unwearable. You get what you pay for.”
On occasion, “MCHS students volunteered to wear combos of the three suits at public appearances, sometimes even a staff member, but it’s been a couple years since any combination of a Wolfie appeared at an athletic event.”
By 2017, the Athletic Boosters had seen enough of the mishmash of various suits, and the “Cheer Up Wolfie” campaign was started.
The Boosters, in partnership with the Class of 1998, “wanted to see Wolfie make added public appearances – not only at sporting events, but elementary and middle schools, parades and community events. Wolfie is a goodwill ambassador who can boost morale and school pride among students, staff, and the larger community.”
The effort was spearheaded by Eaton, Kohn said.
“The MCHS alum, now president of the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce, spearheaded a fundraising effort to purchase a new, more modern costume. The effort was facilitated by the Unity Foundation, and major donors included the IHSAA Foundation and members of the Michigan City Rotary Club,” she said.
“I got involved with this project through volunteer work with the Unity Foundation of La Porte County,” Eaton said. “I had heard that the MCHS Athletic Booster Club had made a request and I thought it would be a fun way for alumni of MCHS to give back to the school.
“My graduating class recently celebrated its 20-year reunion ... and I thought this is a great way for me and others to show how proud we are to have graduated from MCHS!”
She kicked off the campaign with a $100 contribution and then reached out to others.
“We were able to reach our final goal during a Michigan City Rotary Club meeting where many of my fellow Rotarians donated and were then matched by Matt with the IHSAA Foundation, who just happened to be at our meeting that day! It was a great outpouring of support.”
Eaton said as an alum, she saw more than a suit when she recalled Wolfie.
“A mascot creates an image for the school. Michigan City Area Schools is a school system to be proud of and we should have a mascot that reflects that,” she said. “I have three children of my own who attend MCAS and I know they are proud of their schools, but at times it is hard to keep them enthusiastic about it.
“A mascot that looks great and stands proud will bring that enthusiasm to not only the high school, but to all of the students of MCAS and the Michigan City community. I am really looking forward to the reveal.”
Kohn said the “grassroots fundraising effort by dedicated alumni and community supporters” will pay off when “the beloved mascot will once again howl proudly in the Wolves Den and other venues. The new Wolfie will harken back to the old days of Wolfie being a true mascot, roaming sidelines at games and managed by the cheerleaders.”
Wolfie IV will debut during halftime of the varsity game on Friday, Jan. 11. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
“The identity of the performer inside the mascot suit is a closely guarded secret,” Kohn said. “However, the individual is rumored to be a student-athlete at MCHS who has been training tirelessly with the cheerleaders in anticipation of his big reveal on January 11.”
“Wolfie is a true ambassador for our high school and our athletic teams,” MCHS Athletic Director Craig Shaman said. “We are grateful for the funders who made this possible. I hope the community will turn out on January 11 to officially welcome Wolfie to the pack.”
(Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories in advance of Friday’s “Wolfie reveal.” In Wednesday’s News-Dispatch, we hear from some of the students who performed as the mascot during their time at MCHS.)
Wolfie’s twin brother was ‘Warren’
Every great movie has a spinoff. In the Wolfie series, it was “Warren” – the twin of the original.
One of the students who wore the Wolfie mascot suit at Michigan City High School mentioned that there was an old costume in the back of a closet at MCHS in the late 1990s that had formerly been used at Elston when it was a junior high.
Another Wolife? Actually it may have been a twin. And it seems there were two wolf suits used at Elston, when the school nickname was changed from Red Devils to Wolves.
Lisa Emshwiller, who was principal of Elston Junior High around 2001-04 when it was only eighth-graders, confirmed they had a Wolfie suit, which she believes was a duplicate of the MCHS costume. She has no idea whatever happened to it, MCAS spokeswoman and lead Wolfie historian Betsy Kohn said.
And Kelly Martin Fargo, the last principal of Elston Middle School (before redistricting in 2013-14), said she purchased another Wolfie suit, which has since disappeared, for middle school use.
“It was to replace the one that was a duplicate of the original Wolfie from MCHS and was used by Elston Junior High,” she told Kohn, who added, “I never knew that one existed.”
Under Fargo’s tenure, the mascot for Elston Middle School was renamed “Warren Wolfie Jones” in honor of the longtime Elston principal who passed away in November.
Fargo recalled that “original suit was from the bygone days – it had been dry cleaned so many times that that the cleaners said it couldn’t be cleaned anymore,” Kohn said.
Much like the original Wolfie, the “Warren” version “became matted and nasty. We think it was tossed but are not sure,” Fargo told Kohn.
Or is it still in the back of a closet somewhere at MCHS?